Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Sunday, 4/20/14

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 12:1-14 (p) Isaiah 51:9-11
Morning Psalms: Psalms 148, 149, 150
Gospel: John 1:1-18, 20:19-23, Luke 24:13-35
Evening Psalms: Psalms 113, 114


DEVOTIONAL


Fire.

For many centuries, the primary sign of the Resurrection was the Easter Fire.   Before lilies, eggs, and butterflies, it was the central symbol of Easter. The Fire was the Light of Christ come into the world, which the darkness cannot overcome.

That’s why we, like so many churches throughout the world, start our celebration of Easter by igniting a bonfire lit in the tomblike darkness and cold of the night. “The light of Christ,” we’ll sing; and then, “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” To which the congregation exclaims, “He is risen indeed!”

But the light of Christ does not just burn in Easter Fire; it burns also in us. So it is that two of the earliest Christ followers comment to each other after walking with Jesus on the road, “Were not our hearts burning within us!” (Luke 24:32)

This is one of the simplest reasons I follow Jesus: He makes my heart burn within me. He consistently helps me see my best and truest self. He reminds me of what life can look like when it is lived well. Though we often think of faith as an intellectual exercise, of believing certain doctrines, I have found it to be a far more visceral thing. It is the passion that bursts into brilliant flame within us, fueling us on, as Jesus calls us into a future of such bright hope and possibility.

Two thousand years after Jesus rose from the dead, the Easter Fire still burns. May it burn in you. May it burn in me.

Amen.
CRM


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Lamentations 3:37-58
Morning Psalms: Psalms 95, 88
New Testament: Hebrews 4:1-16, Romans 8:1-11
Evening Psalms: Psalms 27

DEVOTIONAL


Throughout Psalm 27 the author cries out to God for help. God hear me! God listen to me! God save me! These are all very real experiences of life. We can connect with the emotion of this Psalm as if it was written yesterday and not over 2,000 years ago.

My favorite part of the whole passage is the psalmist’s invitation:

“One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord....”

The author is requesting a closer connection to God. And not just a glimpse of God but rather to actually live in God’s house and to behold the beauty of the Lord! This is quite a bold statement. If you have trouble or a need you can go to God with it. God is our shelter and protector. He literally dwells with us and within us.

As we move through this Holy season of Lent, reflecting on penitence and our sins can be very heavy. Many of us may feel like we have 40 days where we spiritually beat ourselves for not “doing what we should” the rest of the year just so we can make it to Easter. What if instead we chose to be rigorously honest with our God just like this psalmist does? This is our opportunity. The God of the universe is ever present to guide us. If we take a risk and ask “Teach me your way, O Lord” or choose to “wait on the Lord” we may be surprised by the response. For it is in the process of seeking God that we learn how to connect with God and that God is always present to us.
MP


Friday, April 18, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33
Morning Psalms: Psalms 22
New Testament: 1 Peter 1:10-20
Gospel: John 13:36-38, 19:38-42
Evening Psalms: Psalms 40:1-14, 54

DEVOTIONAL


Nietzsche said, in a bold claim of nihilistic atheism: God is dead.

Today, that is true. Jesus is dead. His mission is over, and his corpse is placed in the closest tomb, to do what corpses do—cease to exist.

In today’s Gospel story, our Messiah, our God-made-Man, Jesus Christ, has been murdered. His followers have fled. Not a single disciple stayed to care for his burial. Instead, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus take care of his burial. This story stirs up doubt and the terror in me that comes with the great existential fear of, “If I die, will anyone care?”

When I was serving as a chaplain in a hospital, we had a young man come into the trauma center. He had been attacked at a family party, presumably by a family member. The young man was unresponsive at the scene, but needed to be brought to the hospital where he could be pronounced dead. As I waited with the officer who had arrived with the body, we received a phone call -- no one would be coming to identify or claim the body. I was shocked. Something deep within me cried out at this injustice, to die alone, your body unclaimed, family and friends rejecting you in death!

Yes, people die every day. Alone. This is part of being human. We are finite, decaying, all slowly marching to our existential zero.

However, Nietzsche got it wrong. God is not dead.

God died.

And in two days, we are going to be surprised at how even death itself is not strong enough to overcome our God. And, because of our God, no one ever really dies alone.

On this Good Friday, remember that we have a hope. A hope that looks death in the face and says, “You have no power left.” A hope that says that even in the darkest of human moments, even when hope seems lost, we have a God who has been there, who has done that, who has come out on the other side. We have a God whose love has conquered even His own death.
BM


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Lamentations 2:10-18
Morning Psalms: Psalms 102
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 10:14-17, 11:27-32
Gospel: Mark 14:12-25
Evening Psalms: Psalms 142, 143

DEVOTIONAL


“Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen oracles for you that are false and misleading.”
Lamentations 2:14

This verse calls the people of Jerusalem to task for allowing themselves to be misled by false prophets who proclaimed false visions that the people were only too happy to accept. Those prophets did not expose the many iniquities of the population that eventually brought that once great city to total ruin. How painful that must have been to GOD. He gave his chosen people the best of everything and asked only that they obey his law. Instead, they listened to others who told them things more pleasing to their ears. How quickly they forgot!

Reading this passage in Lamentations made me think about the many false prophets I’ve seen in our society. It seems so easy to idolize those perceived as smarter, better, richer, or stronger, especially if you or I hang on every word they say and scrutinize every action they take, or if we want to look, sound, and act just like them. If I allow it, those prophets/idols will lead me down a golden path that will surely turn to dust. Their visions will likely grow glitzier and more bizarre to keep my attention focused squarely on them, until finally they become so outrageous that I’ll wonder what I ever saw in them to begin with and look for someone else to follow. What a world we could have if we listened only to our true prophets.

LORD, thank you for being ever faithful and giving us strong, sure directions for our lives. May we focus on You and reject the words of those who would lead us astray from your path – the only true one to the final prize of Salvation.
DJB


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Lamentations 2:1-9
Morning Psalms: Psalms 55
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:11
Gospel: Mark 12:1-11
Evening Psalms: Psalms 74

DEVOTIONAL


Most of you have heard Father Rob speak about his fishing experiences, so I thought I would tell you my fishing story. It took place when I lived in Minnesota. We were invited to go ice fishing – for those that may not realize it – this is done on a frozen lake. The lake becomes a village, complete with heated houses and vehicles. In my mind, that was insanity -- ice and heat do not go together! Well, we went anyway – “for the experience.”

In Psalm 55, the psalmist tells us to cast our cares on the Lord and He will sustain us. Yet, I am often slow to cast my worries, fears, and concerns on Him. Sometimes I choose to rely upon my limited understanding, even though I may find the image of throwing away my worries, fears, and concerns comforting.

That is exactly what I did on that ice fishing trip. At first, I was consumed with my thoughts about heat melting ice. Eventually, I was able to trust the expertise of our hosts and calm down, and as Father Rob has done many times (literally as well as metaphorically), I joined my family in ‘casting’ my line into the water that day, in anticipation of an adventure. Needless to say, the frozen lake was able to sustain all the people, shelters, cars, trucks, and snowmobiles. It really was “an experience to remember!”

Just as the ice was strong enough, so, too, is God strong enough. He is able to sustain all of our concerns, fears, worries, and “then some.” There is nothing that He cannot handle.

Dear Lord, I pray for the strength I need each day to “Cast [my] cares on the LORD…”Amen.
SWG


Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday, April 14, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Lamentations 1:1-2,6-12
Morning Psalms: Psalms 51:1-18
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 1:1-7
Gospel: Mark 11:12-25
Evening Psalms: Psalms 69:1-23

DEVOTIONAL


When I was a young boy, about six or seven, I had a babysitter named Michael. Over winter break one year we decided to go sledding with a bunch of his friends. I felt so grown up and so cool hanging out with all the big kids. We ended up sledding in a massive open area that was connected to a hill in his back yard. It was bordered on both sides by trees which were painted white with snow, except for one. Off to the right, one small tree stuck out.

Almost everyone else had gone, and I was ready to prove that I belonged with them. I was ready to be a big kid! I hopped onto my sled and got ready to go. Right before plummeting down the hill, I felt Michael kneel next to me and say, “Zack, make sure you steer left so you don’t hit that tiny tree on the right.” I nodded and took off. In what seemed like a split second, I hit a bump, flew off my sled, and slid across the snow…straight into that small tree – feet first! Not only did I hit the tree, it split me right up the middle. The next thing I know is I’m looking up at the sky and crying that “My boy parts hurt!!” And before I knew it, I was in my mom’s arms. Michael had carried me home while I was too busy crying. Soon, I was enjoying hot chocolate and cartoons.

Mark 11:22 tells it to us straight:
“’Have Faith in God,’ Jesus answered.”

Trust that God is working for your greater good, even when you take a tree to your boy parts. You might not be able to understand it at the moment, but trust that, soon enough, you’ll be on the couch watching cartoons while drinking hot chocolate.
ZJR


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday, April 13, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Zechariah 9:9-12, 12:9-11, 13:1, 7-9
Morning Psalms: Psalms 24, 29
New Testament: 1 Timothy 6:12-16
Gospel: Luke 19:41-48
Evening Psalms: Psalms 103 

DEVOTIONAL


What is striking for me about today’s gospel passage is the range of emotion that Jesus feels – he goes from weeping to anger. He cries knowing that so many people are not accepting him for who he is, and the judgment they will suffer as a result. He goes from that to being angry because, at the temple, people are taking advantage of one another in the name of God.

It makes me wonder what God thinks and feels now -- today. I wonder how God feels when he sees the state of the world, what we’ve made of it, and most importantly, how we treat one another? I often think about God as “judge;” I don’t often think about God having an emotional life. But Jesus, being God, shows that possibility.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:8)

So I ask myself: How do I treat others? Do I love my neighbor in the way God desires? Do I show kindness, do justice, and walk humbly in this world? When God looks at how I live my life and my relationships, how does it make Him feel? It’s different to think about God in this way. Yet, I want my life to honor God, and I want to be the best example of God’s love that I can be for my family and for my community. I often make mistakes and get wrapped up in my own life. I hope, by remembering this aspect of God, that when He looks at how I treat others, God will smile.
ASCM


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 10:21-11:8
Morning Psalms: Psalms 137:1-6, 144
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Gospel: Mark 10:46-52
Evening Psalms: Psalms 42, 43

DEVOTIONAL


“Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle; my rock and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues the peoples under him. “
Psalms 144: 1-2 (RSV)

I am walking to my car after a long day at work. Slowly my mind is switching gears from work-mode to home-mode. What shall I prepare for dinner? Do I need to stop anywhere on my way home? Did I leave that last load of laundry in the dryer? My phone buzzes with a text message and distracts me from my mental checklist. The message from my husband states that he is in the local emergency room. Suddenly, nothing at home matters, and I am singularly focused on getting to the hospital and overseeing my husband’s care.

Living with chronic illness is similar to fighting a war. You must be ready to go into battle at a moment’s notice. Over the years we have spent a significant amount of time in hospitals. My ‘job’, whether our battle is in the emergency room, the ICU, or a doctor’s office, is to be my husband’s advocate and to gain the knowledge I need to care for him once he is home again. I am thankful that I have a healthcare background, but I have learned medical skills far beyond anything that I was taught in pharmacy school.

The physicians, nurses and other personnel take great care of him during this hospital stay, and after about a week he is ready to recuperate at home. We are hopeful that the next battle won’t be for quite some time. I am thankful that the Lord trained my hands for this war.

Lord, help us to trust that You will provide us with the tools we need to deliver us from our battles. Amen.
MP


Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday, April 11, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 9:13-35
Morning Psalms: Psalms 22, 95
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Gospel: Mark 10:32-45
Evening Psalms: Psalms 141, 143:1-11 

DEVOTIONAL


“Jesus said to the twelve, ‘the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’”
Mark 10:33-34

What if I had been one of the apostles? Would I have heard Jesus and understood what He said? Or would I have missed the message as they did and heard only what I wanted to hear?

What about now? I sometimes wonder if I hear God when He speaks to me. Do I even recognize His voice?

“Hear what you want to hear.” That is the tag line in a TV commercial for the popular headphones, Beats by Dre. As San Francisco 49ers QB, Colin Kaepernick, enters the stadium of an opponent, the home team fans hurl insults his way. To block that out, he puts on his Beats by Dre to hear only what he wants to hear –music, not the screaming crowd.

I recently attended a meeting at St. Matt’s to present information on an adult mission trip opportunity that we could possibly pursue later this year. Quickly, the meeting shifted from, “Here is some information on a mission opportunity,” to “Pat, when can you lead this trip?” I wanted my Beats by Dre, as this was not the message I wanted to hear. I had absolutely no intention of leading a mission trip; I was just trying to be helpful! But afterward, I realized that maybe God was speaking to me, putting one of His desires on my heart. I have since shifted my thinking and will now make every attempt to free up time in October to lead that mission trip. With God’s grace, I will no longer limit myself by “Hearing what I want to hear.” Instead, I will try to actively listen for the voice of God, with or without my Beats by Dre.
PP


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 7:8-24
Morning Psalms: Psalms 119:145-176
New Testament: 2 Corinthians 2:14-3:6
Gospel: Mark 10:1-16
Evening Psalms: Psalms 128, 129, 130

DEVOTIONAL


Five years ago, my wife and I were married in a wonderful ceremony at St. Matthew’s Church. However, it was not the first marriage for either of us. When my first marriage was clearly not working out, I struggled with this Gospel, especially with Verses 11 and 12. I recall sitting in church on a Sunday morning, not knowing what to do -- and the topic of the sermon was divorce. The seminarian who delivered the sermon was struggling with the question of how God feels about divorce in our society; he essentially said that God doesn’t like divorce, but that He understands. His heart breaks for us, but His grace can help overcome the pain and the “hardness of heart” that is inevitably present with divorce. God’s grace helped me move forward and take some time to heal. Eventually, He led me to a wonderful woman who became my wife in that ceremony five years ago, surrounded by family and friends, and clearly in His presence.

While the first part of today’s Gospel is a tough read, the second part about receiving the kingdom of God “like a little child” is a wonderful analogy. Many of you may recall that five years ago, at St. Matthew’s, we were ramping up a building program. We wanted to expand our church building —and eventually we did. The “making space to share” program resulted in our larger parish hall and more classrooms. And on Sunday mornings, we seem to have more people, especially more children! They are so full of joy and wonder. They are a blessing.

Dear Lord, please bless the children and all the people in our community and throughout the world. Help us come into your kingdom “like a little child,” full of joy. Please give us the grace to soften our hearts, to heal old wounds, and to live a life of knowing and sharing your love. Amen.
JM


Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 5:1-6:1
Morning Psalms: Psalms 121, 122, 123
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 14:20-40
Gospel: Mark 9:42-50
Evening Psalms: Psalms 124, 125, 126, 

DEVOTIONAL


I am not particularly well versed in the Bible. I grew up learning all the basic bible stories, attending church every Sunday, singing in the choir, and even teaching Sunday School. I even attended a few Billy Graham conferences. Mostly, I relied on our minister to explain the bible readings in his weekly sermon. Life was simple and good, and I considered myself a pretty good person and Christian.

It was not until years later when a series of events and crises entered my life that I found myself talking to God, looking to the Bible for answers, and praying. I could have easily fallen into a black hole when my marriage broke up, or when I found myself alone to raise 3 small children (ages 3 months to 7 years) with no family nearby, or when my son passed away. I prayed for strength and patience to get me through each day. In Exodus 5:1 - 6:1 the people of Israel faced many hardships; their faith was challenged over and over again. Reading that passage helped me understand that God did not promise an easy life – not to the people of Israel, and certainly not to me. But what He does promise is that He will be with us through each and every crisis. Through His grace and mercy, the Israelites survived their journey out of Egypt, and through His grace and mercy, I am surviving my journey through Life. Many people wear crosses or crucifixes around their neck. I choose to wear a heart-shaped pendant with footprints on the sand. On the back are the words, “When you saw only one set of footprints it was then that I carried you.”

Dear Lord, I pray that You grant us Your grace and mercy when we face a crisis in life. I pray for the faith we need during such moments to realize that Our Lord and Savior is carrying us. Amen.
WS


Monday, April 07, 2014

Monday, April 07, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 4:10-31
Morning Psalms: Psalms 31
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 14:1-19
Gospel: Mark 9:30-41
Evening Psalms: Psalms 35

DEVOTIONAL


Today's Gospel reading takes me back to a blazing hot hilltop outside Port-au-Prince, where a little boy is perched on top of a dirt embankment overhanging the path between a work site lower down the hill and the supply yard above. I walk up, saying something like, "Hey kid, let's get down from there before you break something.” The little boy extends his arms and half-falls, half-jumps into my arms. Then he is squirming to the ground, which turns out to be a good thing because I need my hands free to catch his little sister who has been watching and decides to join the game. I didn't realize we were playing. Next, here comes another little girl, followed by the original jumper. I might have been there 'til dinner time, but someone called me to return to my place in the bucket brigade passing supplies down the hill. Then one of the older kids interrupted the line headed up the embankment with mock stern instructions for me to stop fooling around.

At that moment, I wasn't feeling too guilty for accepting a momentary diversion from hard work; but a little mild self-reproach, plus the need to pay attention to the task at hand, kept me from thinking about what had just happened. Now, I think that God was trying to tell me something that day, and it's a lot like what Jesus was saying to the disciples when he embraced the little child as the embodiment of the humble, trusting spirit in which man finds God: I need to be present, and paying attention, not distracted by concerns about appearance, status, or prestige, when God comes flying at me in whatever form He chooses.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we might not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose.
“A Collect for Grace” - Book Of Common Prayer, p.100
FB


Sunday, April 06, 2014

Sunday, April 06, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 3:16-4:12
Morning Psalms: Psalms 118
New Testament: Romans 12:1-12
Gospel: John 8:46-59
Evening Psalms: Psalms 145

DEVOTIONAL


I am writing this on Martin Luther King Day. Maybe because it’s this day, maybe because of Rob’s powerful sermon on Martin Luther King yesterday, maybe because these things have been on my mind a lot lately: Every passage in today’s readings made me think of Martin Luther King and the struggles of the civil rights movement in the 60’s. It wasn’t bad enough that it took a hundred years of struggle to get to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If we’re honest, truly open-eyed honest, these struggles continue – another fifty years later! From my limited perspective, there have been improvements. But this makes the prejudice less obvious, and thus more insidious and likely to continue. And the sad thing is, we all suffer for it. But I digress.

Among other things, Fr. Rob spoke about King’s last Christmas Eve sermon. In it, I heard and felt the strength King pulled from knowing the Lord. I’ve always admired his ability to fight on a non-violent basis despite the things “mere mortals” did to him and to his people. And yet, he and they kept on fighting the good fight. Would I have had the strength to do that? Fight alongside him? Do I have that strength today? I’d like to think so, but I would probably need the constant reminder from Psalm 118:

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies….The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.”

King knew this so deep in his heart. I hope I can know it as deeply.
LL


Saturday, April 05, 2014

Saturday, April 05, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 2:23-3:15
Morning Psalms: Psalms am: 107:33-43, 108
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Gospel: Mark 9:14-29
Evening Psalms: Psalms 33

DEVOTIONAL


“When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’”
Exodus 3:4

I have never seen God through a burning bush. Sometimes I think that those in the Bible who heard the voice of God or who had face time with Jesus had it so much easier. Although I believe I have seen God at work in my life in many ways, those messages can be subtle, hidden by the evil that tries to make sure I don’t get those messages. Maybe the Bible can be my “burning bush,” a tool to help me hear the voice of God even through the voice of evil.

Moses had the burning bush, but as he walked away from it, he doubted his ability to do what God called him to do. Doubt happens to me on a daily basis. But God told Moses, “I will be with you.” That’s it. God is with me -- every minute of every day. Moses basically said, but God, look at what you have to deal with and God said, this will work. How is this any different in my life? I should be able to read this story in the Bible and apply it automatically, right? Well, it’s never that easy. Life gets in the way. Actually, I should say that evil gets in the way.

Today’s passage from Mark has a similar message. There is a boy who is possessed by an evil spirit. The father tells Jesus that he believes Jesus can save the boy, and Jesus does. I believe there is no difference between that evil spirit and the evil that is around me all day long trying to take me off task.

My prayer for this Lent is that I practice using my Bible to help me acknowledge that I believe -- so that I may be shielded from the evil that waits for me to stumble.
VAN


Friday, April 04, 2014

Friday, April 04, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 2:1-22
Morning Psalms: Psalms 102
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:27-13:3
Gospel: Mark 9:2-13
Evening Psalms: Psalms 107:1-32 

DEVOTIONAL


“Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: ‘Every boy that is born you must throw into the Nile…’ A Levite woman… became pregnant and gave birth to a son... she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.”
(Exodus 1:22; 2:2-3)

The woman in this passage, who saved her son by placing him in a basket along the river’s edge, was Moses’ mother. The baby was Moses. Re-reading the story brought back fond memories of the wooden cradle my brother-in-law, Jim, made for his first child, Amy, in 1978. The cradle has held nine babies in our family over the years -- six girls and three boys -- including Beau and Allison. It’s built of sturdy pine and is beautiful in its simplicity. One meaning of the verb ‘to cradle’ is to support protectively or intimately. To me, that wooden cradle epitomizes a father’s love – a small, cozy bed, crafted by his own hands, where a baby can sleep feeling safe and protected.

As a parent, I have always instinctively wanted to protect my children, both from physical harm and from the emotional pain and disappointment that life sometimes brings. Just as God saved baby Moses to fulfill His plan, I know He has a plan for my “babies.” In the meantime, with God’s help, I’ll be like the cradle, sturdy and true, supporting and protecting them to the best of my ability.

Heavenly Father, thank You for this day and for all You do to love, support, and protect us.  Amen.
JP


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Thursday, April 03, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Exodus 1:6-22
Morning Psalms: Psalms 69
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26
Gospel: Mark 8:27-9:1
Evening Psalms: Psalms 73

DEVOTIONAL


“…God has so arranged the body…that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.”
1 Corinthians 12:24-26

Recently, during Sunday School, one of the middle schoolers really moved me with this note: “If you are a part of a congregation and you are suffering, the congregation will suffer with you.” This, at its core, is why I’m a Christian and an Episcopalian. We are one community. When one of us suffers, we gather together and pray as an entire community. When one of us succeeds, gets accepted into college, gets a new job, sings a solo, or has some sort of exciting event happen, even if it’s simply making a new friend, we celebrate and build up that person. Every Sunday, after comforting or celebrating with my church community, I come away with uplifting thoughts that last through the week.

I continually work with God to be open to our community’s love and support. I’ve always tended toward being in control of myself and, as much as possible, my surroundings. I’ve never gotten drunk, never done drugs, never really done much of anything where I could lose control and possibly do things I’d regret later. I was always the guy you wanted at a party, since I’d be the designated driver. (Truly, people do weird stuff when they’re drunk and someone else is driving them home.) While it is great to stay in control, I find it’s also difficult to open myself up to the love and support of others. It’s so easy to answer the question, “How are you?” with, “I’m fine.” It’s incredibly difficult to actually seek someone out, tell them I am hurting, and hope that they have some words or a touch to comfort.

God, help me trust Your presence through my community’s love and support. Teach me to lose control so that I can find a place for the vulnerability to accept comfort and celebration within my church community. Amen.
TL


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 50:15-26
Morning Psalms: Psalms 101, 109
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
Gospel: Mark 8:11-26
Evening Psalms: Psalms 119:121-144

DEVOTIONAL


There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

In my life, there have been times when I’ve felt pulled to go in one direction when all logic pointed the other way. Usually, I followed logic, but only to find detours bringing me back to that same starting point.

Three years ago, it happened again. I was at a crossroad -- asked to serve on the Vestry. Logic told me to say NO! I am not a leader and I feel uncomfortable asking people to give anything, let alone to give of their time. I can’t do my own finances, how can I be in charge of a budget? My calendar is a mess; you want me to manage 36 months of events? Then I asked, “God what will you have me do?” Strangely, God sounds an awful lot like Father Rob. Truth be told, I had been gaining the necessary skills over the years. I just needed to learn to trust God, to trust that He would provide -- and He did.

Sometimes my gifts are pretty clear, but when I get distracted, my vision becomes blurred, and I struggle. I believe the struggles I’ve encountered through the years were merely course corrections to God’s plan. In hindsight, it all makes sense, and the signs couldn’t have been clearer. I am eternally grateful that God did not take “no” for an answer from me and that I have had the opportunity to serve Him through the St. Matthew’s vestry.

Heavenly Father, I pray that You will always clear my vision so that I may follow the path You would have me follow in using Your spiritual gifts to touch the lives of others. Amen.
HL


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 49:29-50:14
Morning Psalms: Psalms 97, 99, 100
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Gospel: Mark 8:1-10
Evening Psalms: Psalms 94, 95

DEVOTIONAL


In reading Mark 8:1-10, which describes how Jesus fed a crowd of 4,000, it occurred to me that those present were so filled with what He had to offer that they weren't concerned about eating. Their focus was on Jesus.

As I reflect on these past few years, I believe my focus has been on consumption.   It seems that I'm as guilty as anyone in how deeply connected I am to consuming. What shall I eat? How much? What kind of food is best? Worst? And that's just food! Like most people, I also concern myself with consuming books, movies, T.V.,  social media, and sports (well, sometimes).

It's a fact of life that we have to eat and that we need to occupy our minds. I'm not saying it bothers me that I enjoy the things of this world. It's just that I know God wants to fill me up in other ways, and I don't seek Him out the way I do the latest Netflix series, or best seller novels, or the best way to cook a meal that's tasty and low in calories. In fact, the more I concentrate on consuming the things of this world, and the less I concentrate on filling my life with God, the emptier I end up feeling in the long run.

For me, it all comes down to habits. I have a habit of planning good foods to eat. I have a habit of exercising regularly. But I haven't formed the habit of reading God's word and praying to Him daily. It all seems so simple to do, but it will take concentration and effort from me and guidance from Him to rearrange my consumption priorities and practices. Fortunately for me and the rest of us earthly consumers, the Lord is willing to wait for that change. And that makes all the difference.  
KB


Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday, March 31, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 49:1-28
Morning Psalms: Psalms 89:1-18
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1
Gospel: Mark 7:24-37
Evening Psalms: Psalms 89:19-52

DEVOTIONAL


“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others”
1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Thank God for spring. What a wonderful gift. The welcome warmth of the sun, the music of song birds, and the blossoms of fruit trees are just some examples of God’s grace towards us. It is a time of change, of new growth, of looking forward and not behind. For Margot and me, this spring brings the excitement and chaos of relocating to Florida after 15 years.

As a self-proclaimed “control freak” who has spent his career and life protecting himself from the risks of the future by planning in the present, I continue to fret and worry. Yet, Margot remains relaxed and content in the knowledge that IT IS IN THE LORD’S HANDS and NOT in MINE. So, I have learned that my own protection does not come from my planning and worrying but from the grace of God and the love of his faithful believers like Margot and you, the family of St. Matthews.

Retirement has provided me with the opportunity to refocus many aspects of my life. I thank God that he placed me in St. Matthew’s to assist in that important task. While I was slow to get involved, the last few years have changed me for the better. My faith is stronger and deeper. I learned that I had to engage others in order to seek the good in them. Fr. Rob’s teachings on how to live a God-centered and relationship-based life style have changed me forever. The Saturday morning Men’s group has also played a major role in my enlightenment. I cannot thank them enough for showing me what Christian love looks like.

While the future is uncertain, I know it is secure because God, and his servant Margot, are there to take care of me.

I pray that St. Matthews will continue to grow and prosper. I also pray that God will lead me to another faithful community where my search for His presence (the good in others) will continue.
JD


Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 48:8-22
Morning Psalms: Psalms 66, 67
New Testament: Romans 8:11-25
Gospel: John 6:27-40
Evening Psalms: Psalms 19, 46

DEVOTIONAL


“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Psalm 19:14

These words from Psalm 19 are familiar to many of us who attend Saint Matthew’s, as Father Rob often prays them before beginning his sermon. These words, along with those said at the end of each service, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord,” remind me on a weekly basis of my responsibilities as a Christian. However, sometimes I need reminders that my Christian duties don’t end on Sunday mornings.

Not too long before the school year began, I received a Christian catalogue in the mail. Enclosed was a card with a picture of a beautiful sunrise and a morning prayer on it The prayer spoke to me, and I made a commitment to begin each school day by saying the prayer during the moment of silence. I continue to say this prayer every morning. I find it gives me focus, setting the tone for my day and my interactions with students, co-workers, and family.

On a daily basis, this prayer serves to remind me of my responsibilities as a Christian. I offer it to you below. If you could use a gentle reminder, I highly recommend making it a part of your morning routine.

Father, Thank You for the blessing of a new morning and the privilege of beginning the day by talking with You. I give You myself and my schedule today, asking to be used to further your kingdom.

Grant me the wisdom to handle each situation I encounter with grace so that my speech will be pleasing and my thoughts pure as I follow Your direction. I am grateful that Your plans for me are good, and I eagerly trust in Your steadfast faithfulness.

Help me to live in a manner worthy of the calling You have placed on my life and to magnify Your name in all things. Amen
MJP


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 47:27-48:7
Morning Psalms: Psalms 87, 90
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13
Gospel: Mark 7:1-23
Evening Psalms: Psalms 136

DEVOTIONAL


“So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”
Psalm 90:12

Death and near-death situations always remind me that my days are also numbered, that I am mortal.

Many years ago, I was traveling in a train through the spectacular Swiss Alps, snapping pictures as fast as I could from every window in the car. It was my first vacation in a very long time, and struggling with life’s challenges -- difficult personalities at work, bosses with questionable character, and family drama -- I needed it badly!

So, totally immersed in the moment, far away from the job and the people and the routines that had become chores in my life, I was happy. Everything was beautiful. All was good.

Suddenly, cries of distress shattered the moment. I turned to see a woman literally clutching her chest. I couldn’t understand the French words she struggled to speak, but the fear and panic in her voice were unmistakable as she wrestled with her heart to cling to life.

A very long 10 minutes later, we arrived at the next station, where the woman was stabilized. Just for an instant, our eyes met, and I could see that she was calm, probably grateful for a second chance.

I continued on my journey, but as I stared out the window, I no longer saw the magnificence of the mountain range. What I did see was the importance of my job, the goodness of people, and the value of the routines in my life, however long or short that life would be. I understood that sometimes, to make the most of my days, to move towards having a wise heart, I just need to pray and to forgive.

Heavenly Father, I pray for grace and wisdom each time I wrestle with my own heart to cling to the life You would have me live, whatever the number of my days. Amen.
MO


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thursday, March 27, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 46:1-7, 28-34
Morning Psalms: Psalms 42, 43
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 9:1-15
Gospel: Mark 6:30-46
Evening Psalms: Psalms 85, 86

DEVOTIONAL


“The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, ‘Come away…all by yourselves and rest a while.’ …And all ate and were filled; Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.”
Mark 6:30-46

I grew up one of seven children in a middle class family. My father was a banker and my mother was the dutiful stay-at-home mom/wife. Managing the day-to-day schedules and responsibilities of seven children would overwhelm the strongest of women. Yet, my mom did that and so much more. Shamefully, and as a mother of only three, there are days when I wonder if I’m capable of doing likewise. I cannot imagine respecting anyone more than I respect my mother.

Our home was a haven for far more than just my family. It wasn’t unusual for me to arrive at home and find my next-door neighbor having a snack at our kitchen table; his mom worked, and he didn’t like to be home alone after school. He knew he was safe and welcome at our house. And it wasn’t just my friends. My brothers’ friends were notorious for stopping by on Tuesday afternoons, even if my brothers weren’t home, because they knew my mom baked on Tuesday mornings. “No better place to get a hug and a brownie,” they’d say. During my oldest brother’s college years away from home, he would consistently just show up with 3 or 4 friends from school who were missing home and needed a decent meal. My mom never turned anyone away. She’d go to work in her kitchen making something out of nothing in no time flat so that these boys would get a little slice of home. It didn’t matter what you threw mom’s way -- she was ready to feed one or five thousand! Our home was open to anyone and everyone. And, not unlike the story in the Gospel, there always seemed to be enough…..enough food, enough laughter, and most definitely, always enough love to go around!
JB


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 45:16-28
Morning Psalms: Psalms 119:97-120
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Gospel: Mark 6:13-29
Evening Psalms: Psalms 81, 82

DEVOTIONAL


Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.
Psalm 119: 97-98

It was ages ago when I learned to drive. I remember a discussion with my father about the laws we were all expected to follow. Why did we have to creep along at 25 miles an hour when we were obviously the only ones on the street and it was wide and straight? Why did I have to come to a complete stop at a stop sign? Why did I have to yield to the traffic already on an interstate highway when coming down an on-ramp - couldn’t they just move over?

My dad patiently asked: What if a child suddenly ran onto the street in front of us; a drunk driver came screaming through the intersection before we even saw him coming; or the person on the interstate couldn’t get over because of traffic in the other lane? He said the people who wrote those laws weren’t thinking about our convenience but were concerned about what was best (safest) for us and for those around us. What seemed obvious to me was filtered by my failure to see the bigger picture.

As I think about the commandments of GOD, I see a parallel to my discussion with my father. Just because I have the freedom to do and act as I wish, that doesn’t mean I am doing what is best for me or for others. I may not be considering all aspects of my actions.

Fortunately, GOD does see and know all and he has given me laws to protect and guide me. I just need to pay attention to HE who is wiser than me.
DJB


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 45:1-15
Morning Psalms: Psalms 78:1-39
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 7:32-40
Gospel: Mark 6:1-13
Evening Psalms: Psalms 78:40-72

DEVOTIONAL


Have you ever wished that someone would just tell you what to do when you had a big decision to make? When I was a teenager faced with difficult decisions, life changing decisions, I would look to my mother for advice on what to do. She would NEVER tell me what she thought the right decision was. Even if, in her heart, she knew what the “right choice” was, she would not share her thoughts with me. Instead, she would calmly tell me to sit down with a piece of paper and a pen, make two columns, and label them Pros and Cons. Somehow, going through this process was supposed to magically help me make my decision. As an adult, I’m grateful for her guidance on effective decision-making techniques. At the time, however, I would have preferred for her to simply make the decision for me.

As I read 1 Corinthians 7:32-40, I saw that same level of parental guidance given to those who were anxious. Just as I asked my mother to make an important decision for me, the Corinthians were seeking decision-making for themselves from someone they viewed as their spiritual parent.

In the end, regardless of what important decisions I have had to make throughout the years, they’ve been my decisions, not someone else’s. I truly value the decision-making gift my mother gave me. I’m forever grateful, and I value being accountable for my own decisions, whether or not they were “right” or “wrong” in Mom’s eyes. She trusted that I would make the right decisions, and she always provided gentle guidance along the way. As a parent, I now find myself on the other end of that discussion, and it’s almost as frightening as being on the end with the pen and paper.

Dear Lord, please guide my daily choices both big and small; and thank you for always being there for me, even when I fall.  In Jesus' name I pray.  Amen.
MKR


Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 44:18-34
Morning Psalms: Psalms 80
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 7:25-31
Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
Evening Psalms: Psalms 77, 79

DEVOTIONAL


As great a man as Gandhi was, I find part of him to be selfish. That seemed evident to me after reading his autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth.” His steadfast pursuit of truth led him to liberate a country and become a beacon of peace and human morality. It also meant that the same experimentalism with simple living, diet, self-control and so forth that he conducted on himself was also applied to his wife and children. Their lives were dictated by his unbending search for truth. To have a more flexible approach to familial relationships would have been a distraction to that search, the paramount goal of his life.

Paul calls out the same thing to the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:25-31). Though not forbidding marriage or calling it a sin, he does discourage the act as a distraction to fully living for God’s work. For that matter, he says happiness, sadness, wealth and exciting things in this world fall into the same category. Make good use of those things, Paul says, but don’t stop to enjoy them in such a way as they become a distraction to doing God’s work. This single-mindedness seems to be a requirement to live a saintly life.

I like my distractions. The one I married. The three I’ve raised. It’s difficult for me to believe that God would have me relegate them to a lower tier in my life when it’s through them that I experience God’s Love so strongly. And I don’t think He would. Ultimately, God wants us to know Him and do whatever will help us serve Him best. For me, that includes learning lessons from being a husband and parent: to put the needs of others first; to put self-interest second to common interest; and to see others as God must see them – beautiful souls sharing this journey through life. I must be distracted at times in order to learn these lessons.
TO


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday, March 23, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 44:1-17
Morning Psalms: Psalms 93, 96
New Testament: Romans 8:1-10
Gospel: John 5:25-29
Evening Psalms: Psalms 34

DEVOTIONAL


He has delineated tiny details of our lives,
Mapped out like DNA before our eyes are even formed to see
The depths of the Grand Canyon, or the width of the sea, or to count
Your tiny fingers and toes and eyelashes.

God’s Majesty: both marvelous and unknowable to me
As the books I will have left unread and the songs I will have left unheard.
Unknowable as the number of stars that have ever existed
Or the number of ideas, or of kisses.

The more I explore, the more I learn, the more I love,
The more I want to explore, to learn, and to love.
The wonders of the Lord are infinite. 
In all of our lifetimes we could not begin to understand them all.

But we are given the amazing gift of basking in the beauty of His creation
Like turtles on a log, soaking up the power of God’s love, thankful
That he gives us the means to experience even a fraction
Of a fractal of His majesty.
BP


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 43:16-34
Morning Psalms: Psalms 75, 76
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 7:10-24
Gospel: Mark 5:1-20
Evening Psalms: Psalms 23, 27

DEVOTIONAL


“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”
Psalm 27: 14

I recently received a small plaque that I placed next to my morning coffee. It states: “Good Morning, this is God…I will be handling all your problems today.” The person who gave it to me knows that, whether in marriage, raising my children or generally living my life, it is easy for me to become discouraged. My husband, for example, would come home and unexpectedly say, “Well, the job situation has taken another turn.” And off we would go, moving to a new city, or accepting that he would have more business travel, or dealing with an unforeseen revision to our summer vacation plans. Yes, there have been times when it was hard for me to keep the faith, to believe that I could weather the storm of change.

At such times, I wanted to believe that I was in control, and I wanted things done in my time. Often my first response to a challenging situation was to charge ahead, respond with anger, and think it unfair. Eventually, though, I realized that sometimes those challenges are the little wake-up calls -- when God is whispering opportunities for change, opportunities for growth.

So when I’m faced with life’s challenges, I pray that I make time to listen, spend time on reflection, and wait for the Lord’s whisper. That is vitally important. To keep it all in perspective, I will remember to pray the powerful verses of Psalm 23:

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.….”
Amen.
JL


Friday, March 21, 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 43:1-15
Morning Psalms: Psalms 69
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 7:1-9
Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
Evening Psalms: Psalms 73

DEVOTIONAL


I’m glad 2013 is in the rear view mirror. It was a year full of pain and heartache. I lost my Mother-In-Law and a co-worker, I watched several close friends battle debilitating and life threatening diseases, and I was so far mired in a destructive relationship with my work that I couldn’t even see it. The beginning of Psalm 69 seems to express the way I felt much of the year.

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.

The truth is, I was saved and blessed many times over in 2013. In June, for instance, I went with the youth of our congregation on a mission trip. I still can’t tell you for certain why I decided to go. It was just suddenly important to me. Somehow that experience helped me see how unhealthy my work situation had become and how much I was leaving undone in my life because of it. A few short weeks later, an opportunity (which had been open to me for years) was renewed. This time, I seized it! Now I am in a positive, healthy, and exciting position that allows me to have balance in my life. I would never have expected a mission trip to have such a drastic impact on my professional as well as my personal life – but it did.

Facing the challenges of grief and fear for friends and family remains important and is a struggle I am still faced with today; but with His support I am focused on being the loving husband, father, friend, and person I want to be, and on sharing His love by that example. When it all seems too much, I try to think of Jesus’ words to the disciples in today’s reading from Mark.

“Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

JWS


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Thursday, March 20, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 42:29-38
Morning Psalms: Psalms 70, 71
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel: Mark 4:21-34
Evening Psalms: Psalms 74

DEVOTIONAL


Again he said, ‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like…? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.’”
Mark 4:30-32

When Fr. Rob first joined St Matthews, he asked many of us to do a strengths test. Mine came out strong on leadership and planning, so he asked me to lead a team to create a strategic plan. Now, I had been in the business world for 20 years planning internal projects, even planning projects across an entire industry. However, a church plan? That was a first…a scary first.

I studied, read a lot of books on the topic, and met with my team mates. We drafted a survey and, under Father Rob’s direction, developed a mission statement, a vision, and goals. It’s been more than 10 years now, and the plan has stood the test of time fairly well.  

Jesus says, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground.  Night and day whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows…” (Mark 4:26-27) Our mustard seed took root and sprouted. Having the honor to help create that plan, I feel as if I’m still watching that seed grow into something wonderful.

Opportunities to plant and to watch something grow -- to be part of the process – often happen in unexpected ways. We just have to recognize each opportunity, even when it is not so visible, and seize the moment.

The gifts we have can be used in ways we may never even imagine; for me leading a team to create a strategic plan for St. Matthew’s was definitely one that I would never have imagined.

Jesus, you have filled my life with opportunities. Help me to miss none of these opportunities when they come my way. Amen.
AL


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 42:18-28
Morning Psalms: Psalms 72
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 5:9-6:8
Gospel: Mark 4:1-20
Evening Psalms: Psalms 119:73-96

DEVOTIONAL


I know, O LORD, that your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness you have humbled me.  Let your steadfast love become my comfort according to your promise to your servant.
Psalm 119: 75-77

I love to ride my bike. Over the course of several years, I have trained and completed a few long distance rides for charity purposes. The coaches would tell us during training, “Ride your ride.” The message: Don’t worry about how everyone else is going along. Focus on your ride. When I would tell friends or co-workers that I was training for a 100 mile bike ride, people would often wish me luck in my “race.” “It’s not a race,” I would say, “It’s a ride.”

Several years ago, my son, an aspiring musician, wanted to attend a “coffee house” event where several of his friends were performing. As we were driving home, he was unusually quiet. When I asked him why, he responded that he wished he could perform in a similar place. He said he felt angry because he knew these friends to engage in illegal activities. It didn’t seem fair.

In an effort to console him, I responded that he would be rewarded in positive ways for his good character and that he shouldn’t deviate from what he knew was right. In the years since, I believe my son would agree; he has received countless rewards.

Recently, my younger son expressed his frustration over impatient drivers as he was navigating our truck along a busy highway one evening. I reminded him to be calm and not worry about the impatience of other drivers. He needed to stay focused on driving safely, not quickly. Being safe was more important. In both of those instances I was trying to tell my sons; Stay the course. Follow the path that God puts before you. “Ride your ride,” and trust in God’s judgments and faithfulness.
CB


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 42:1-17
Morning Psalms: Psalms 61, 62
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 5:1-8
Gospel: Mark 3:19b-35
Evening Psalms: Psalms 68

DEVOTIONAL


“There are times when I find the Bible to be a bit of a “difficult” read. I would venture a guess that I am not the only one of us who feels this way. Whether it is a particular translation, a hard to understand parable, or just trying to “get” the message from a certain piece of scripture, it is easy for me to get frustrated. Often I have just closed the book and walked away, taking the easy way out.

It is when these frustrations set in that I need to remember what the Bible has taught me: Pray for guidance; and don’t give up. Psalm 61 gives me that message in its first verse:

“O God listen to me cry! Hear my prayer!”

For me it doesn’t get much simpler than that. And the second verse goes on to say:

“From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed.“

While the Psalm itself is much longer, I found a simple, straightforward message in these two short verses.

The Bible for me is truly a complex book. But by breaking it down into smaller pieces, often not larger than a verse or two in a Psalm, the message becomes clearer. For me, it is clear that whenever “my heart is overwhelmed,” I must pray for guidance, not give up, and know that God is listening.
BER


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday, March 16, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 41:14-45
Morning Psalms: Psalms 24, 29
New Testament: Romans 6:3-14
Gospel: John 5:19-24
Evening Psalms: Psalms 8, 84 

DEVOTIONAL


In today’s gospel, Jesus says,

“…whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

This sounds so easy – all we have to do is hear and believe. But I have a hard time doing this.

We have recently become empty nesters. We were sort-of empty nesters since our youngest went to college, but now he has fully moved out and relocated, so it’s the real deal.

Last year, for the first time in a long time, my boys were home, and we spent Christmas together. What a joy to be with our grown children, including my daughter-in-law. I am so proud of the adults they have all become, and I’m excited about their future. But I wasn’t feeling so confident about things as they were growing up. Time seemed to buzz by in a frazzled state. I was full of doubt and self-judgment, wondering what damage I was doing to my kids since I was sure I wasn’t the perfect parent.

So what does this have to do with the passage from John? I view these as similar functions. As a Christian, I need to simply hear and believe in order to be a fully devoted follower of Christ and to feel the fullness of His grace. As a parent, I simply needed to hear and believe God in the little ways He spoke to me every time I stumbled – and there was lots of stumbling! But, I kept getting up and, with faith, kept at it. Now, I see my kids as beacons of light, shining not because of me or despite my failings, but because of all that was and is good in our family and in our faith. What joy!
VAN


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday, March 15, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 41:1-13
Morning Psalms: Psalms 55
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 4:1-7
Gospel: Mark 2:23-3:6
Evening Psalms: Psalms 138, 139

DEVOTIONAL


“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” Psalm 138:3

I love bird song -- its crystal clarity, tender tones, and sweet, soulful sounds. So when I heard what sounded like fear, distress, and panic coming from a bird outside our living room window, I ran to investigate, ready to scat the cat or whatever the threat. Surprisingly, the source of the commotion was the mama bird, nudging an unwilling fledgling higher and higher up a branch, encouraging it to join its siblings, who were flying short distances around the tree, stretching their newly discovered wings. But, with every single push, that reluctant baby bird loudly and vehemently protested! Nevertheless, mama bird kept nudging. Even though she’d be left with an empty nest, mama bird knew it was vital to her fledglings’ survival that they learn to fly; and so she helped this reluctant one take it’s first “flight” toward independence.

Soon, my youngest will be leaving for college – about 5 months from today, actually. I know that day is coming. I know I will cry when I drive away and she stays behind. She won’t be in her room for a good night kiss. We won’t have weekends to go shopping or enjoy a movie or have lunch at the mall. Yes, we will Skype, text, e-mail, tweet (well, maybe not tweet), and talk over cell phones. What will be missing will be the physical touch, the visual confirmation of safety, the companionship.

I know that day is coming. I know God will make me strong. I am lucky that, unlike the baby bird fussing outside my window that day, I will not have to nudge her along. She is ready to spread her wings and fly. I am the one who will need nudging.

It is I who pray for strength of soul to let her go and to trust that everything will be OK… as I loudly and vehemently pray David’s final line in Psalm 55: “…But I will trust in you.” Amen.
MO


Friday, March 14, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 40:1-23
Morning Psalms: Psalms 40, 54
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Gospel: Mark 2:13-22
Evening Psalms: Psalms 51 

DEVOTIONAL


The words “Follow Me” have been running through my mind. Without a doubt or question, I believe Jesus Christ is our Savior, and I try to live my life as a Christian. Living life as a Christian should not be difficult – “Do unto others as you would like to have done unto you.” I know how I would like to be treated, but the number of times that I am short-tempered to a cashier or someone else (mostly due to my aggravation for being inconvenienced) is too many.

Reading the Bible teaches me how to live the best life possible. But, unfortunately, I fail too frequently. Sometimes I put a fairly simple goal in front of myself, like attending services regularly (not too difficult) or attending WatCH or Bible study on a weekly basis (harder than I thought).

What I do know, for sure, is that when I attend more of the Christian activities that are offered here at St. Matthew’s, I feel better. Each time I attend a gathering, I am reminded about just how caring and compassionate people can be and how we truly are a family. There are times when I just sit back, watch, and smile – there are so many people giving hugs and spending time talking to each other. What a gift we give each other!

It reminds me of the kind of person I would like to be.

DBS


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 37:12-24
Morning Psalms: Psalms 45
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 1:20-31
Gospel: Mark 1:14-28
Evening Psalms: Psalms 47, 48

DEVOTIONAL


“Where is the wise person? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians: 1:20-31

“Where is the wise person? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’” 1 Corinthians: 1:20-31 The Bible often strikes me as a thoroughly modern book. It’s not just that it’s timeless, but that it’s timely. Today’s Gospel reading is a case in point. It is as if Paul, writing 2000 years ago, knew exactly what the world would be like today. In 1 Corinthians, we come face to face with the stark contrast between the way of the world and the way of God, between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God.

The world says, “Only the strong survive.”
God says, “Whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
 
‘The world says, “An eye for eye.”
God says, “Turn the other cheek.”
 
The world says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
God says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
 
The world uses “intelligence” to deny God.
God uses our foolishness to point us to our need for Jesus.
  And let’s face it; when all is said and done, who of us can’t be pretty darn foolish?

We hear so much about “post-traumatic stress syndrome,” but what about post-traumatic growth syndrome? It’s weakness—the hard stuff in life—that is often the greatest catalyst to our spiritual (and personal) growth and development. One way of understanding this is that it is often our weaknesses, not our strengths, that make it easier for other people to love us.

Finally, this passage tells us that we don’t need to be wise by human standards, or influential, or part of the in-crowd. The Bible is the story of people who were flawed but used by God nonetheless. Their biggest asset was not their ability but rather their availability to be used by God.

And so the question is, no matter what we think our faults and failings might be, will we let God use them—and us—to achieve his purposes in the world?
CRM


Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday, March 10, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Genesis 37:1-11
Morning Psalms: Psalms 41, 52
New Testament: 1 Corinthians 1:1-19
Gospel: Mark 1:1-13
Evening Psalms: Psalms 44

DEVOTIONAL


“For in him you have been enriched in every way— with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge… Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed." 1 Corinthians 1:5-7

The bible tells us that we all have certain spiritual gifts; and if we’re lucky, at some point in our lifetime, we’ll each discover those gifts. I am fortunate in knowing the things that come naturally to me, like my ability to take charge of situations. But, as is often the case in my walk with God, just when I think we’re headed off into the sunset together, He throws me off the trail a bit. Today’s 1 Corinthians reading reminds me that spiritual gifts are sometimes hidden in the things I can't do well, and that it's my weaknesses that give me an opportunity to draw strength from God.

For every gift I know I have, I also know where I fall short. My ability to take charge makes it hard for me to slow down, to show calmness and patience. Being a parent, I face this challenge constantly. There are times when my daughter just isn't doing what I want her to; but when I feel pulled to plow through a situation, I'm reminded by the above verse that I'm not only blessed with spiritual gifts I know are there, I'm also blessed with Jesus Christ, and through Him I'm strengthened in all things. In those moments where all I see are my shortcomings, I must remember that Christ enriches me in every way with every spiritual gift -- including the patience that I often feel I don't possess at all.

If I keep in mind that I have Jesus' peace with me and the power of the Holy Spirit in me and God's ruling hand over me, there is no single situation that I can't get through. I must remember that the power comes from the trinity and not from within me, which is truly a humbling experience.
BBH


Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sunday, March 09, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Daniel 9:3-10
Morning Psalms: Psalms 63, 98
New Testament: Hebrews 2:10-18
Gospel: John 12:44-50
Evening Psalms: Psalms 103 

DEVOTIONAL


“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;… Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding,  who obey his word.”
 (Psalm 103:13—20)

Two words in Psalm 103 stirred memories in my mind and warm feelings in my heart: Father and Angels. I am fortunate to have had a kind and loving father. My dad spent time with me, and he taught me so much about nature. I have no memory of him ever being angry with me or even spanking me. He was a man of few words, demonstrating his love through his work in our basement. In the evenings, I would sit on his work bench and watch him make or repair things. I fondly remember a wooden doll with leather legs and arms he made for me out of scraps. So when I read the gentle passages of God our Father loving us, caring for us, and wanting a relationship with us, it was easy for the memory of my own loving father to surface.

Angels are also mentioned in the above scriptures. To me, when I was a child, angels meant heavenly beings who acted as intermediaries between heaven and earth, like the angels appearing before the shepherds outside of Bethlehem to announce the Messiah’s birth. I’ve since discovered that there are earthly angels as well. When my mom was living with me, suffering from advanced dementia, I became depressed with feelings of guilt. My friend, Angie, would give me a hug, take my hands in hers, and pray with me. It helped so much. I rarely see her now, but she was my angel. As we move through this Holy time of Lent, may we be angels to others, even if only for a moment or a day or a season, sent by a kind and loving Heavenly Father. Amen.

CC


Saturday, March 08, 2014

Saturday, March 08, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Ezekiel 39:21-29
Morning Psalms: Psalms 30, 32
New Testament: Philippians 4:10-20
Gospel: John 17:20-26
Evening Psalms: Psalms 42, 43

DEVOTIONAL


There are people who influence you in unexpected ways, and too often the opportunity to thank them passes without warning.

I am nineteen years old, and this past summer I had my first experience with corporate America. Quickly, I was introduced to the subtle nuances that make office sitcoms hilarious. Though I laughed my way through it, there was one day when, instead of laughing, I broke down in tears. A co-worker noticed I was upset and pulled me aside to give me a pep talk. She took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eye, and said, “Girl, why you cryin’?!” When I didn’t have an answer (because I’m used to being coddled in these situations) she proceeded to tell me to go wipe my eyes, clean up my face in the bathroom, and walk back into the office without revealing to the people who upset me that they had any effect on me. I did as I was told, felt better, and continued to laugh through my office sitcom life, even deciding to return for another season.
 
John 17:25 says, “Though the world does not know you, I know you.”

So when the devil throws life’s hardships at me, it is important for me to remember that I know Jesus. With His love, I’m able to walk back into any office and laugh in the devil’s face.

I wish to dedicate this devotional to Samantha (Sam) Christian-Davis, my co-worker who graciously took me under her wing that summer. She passed away in November from an unexpected heart attack. May she be remembered for her free-spirit and her undying love for her fourteen-year-old daughter.
 
Thank you, Jesus, for letting me know You, and thank you for knowing me. Amen.

JS


Friday, March 07, 2014

Friday, March 07, 2014

READING


Old Testament: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Morning Psalms: Psalms 95, 31 
New Testament: Philippians 4:1-9
Gospel: John 17:9-19
Evening Psalms: Psalms 35

DEVOTIONAL


I’m not a person who enjoys spending a lot of time outside. It’s hot in the summer (and sticky in Virginia), my allergies kick into high gear, and there are bugs and snakes and other critters that I prefer not be in my space. But my Dad loved spending a lot of time outdoors with us. Whenever he was home and wherever we lived, Dad took us on outings. We would fish, hunt, or just camp in the mountains, hunt for rocks in the desert, look for shells on the beach. So, even though I didn’t inherit the love-of-the-outdoors gene, I had many opportunities to learn to appreciate and to grow to love the beauty and the majesty of nature.

I remember starting our fishing trips before the sun had risen and how the mountains loomed up in front of us, vast, velvety, and dark. We’d drive up and up, but still there were higher snow-covered mountain tops in the distance. Then, down a dirt road, we would pull up into the middle of a wide meadow filled with tall swaying grasses and delicate colorful flowers. The lake was like a mirror, with its dark glassy surface only broken by the jump of a fish... and then by our boat. It was so quiet that I think we would have whispered even if we hadn’t been trying our best to not scare the fish.

These images come to mind when I read Psalm 95:

“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (verses 3-5, NIV)

What a great gift He has given us!
 
“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” (Verse 2)

SKR